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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bar Sur Tango Show

"Have you and Jon started tango lessons?" is one of the most asked questions we get - especially from visitors.  The answer is that we have not, and really don't intend to - it's just not our scene.

It is absolutely a scene here though, if you want to tango, you can pretty much choose when, where and with whom you would like to go.  There are private and formal lessons, shows, clubs, shoes, clothes, books and everything in between.  I know people who claim to go tango dancing 6 nights a week.  And I believe them.  And I'm simultaneously impressed and confused by this obsession.

We waited until we had a group of visitors that were interested in attending a tango show, and finally, 3.5 years into us living in the world of tango, we visited a show.  We took a recommendation from a co-worker of Jon's to avoid the "tourist-y" tango shows and go to a local place that offer a more intimate experience.

Let me just say right now: Tango Show = Touristy Tango Show.  There is no other show.

Don't get me wrong, there are a zillion shows to choose from, some of the most popular being Tango Porteño, Madero Tango and Los Angelitos, but they are all aimed at tourists, no matter what anyone (including TripAdvisor) says.  Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  It's funny how people visiting another country or culture seem to want to steer clear of being a tourist.  But, you are a tourist when you visit somewhere new - it cannot be helped.  Sometimes, the things that make something touristy is the exact reason you want to do it, some other person who visited told you how great it was.  They were also tourists!  Moving on.

Bar Sur was the recommended show we made the reservation for both dinner and the show and took the trip out to San Telmo.  Now, I will say that the day we had available for attending a tango show was during the week, which played into our decision to attend Bar Sur.  They have a "rolling" show that starts at 9pm and you can leave whenever you're ready.  Most of the other shows have a start and finish time, and we were worried that we wouldn't get home until early the next morning if we went somewhere else.  And Jon has this pesky job that he has to get up for.

Bar Sur is located in San Telmo (Estados Unidos 299 & Balcarce), at a corner place that looks really cool from the outside.  Before even walking in, the waiter (who wore many different hats, he was the only employee I saw interacting with customers) advised us that for a group our size (7 people) we would want to sit in the "balcony". Now, this place is tiny.  The balcony was nothing more than a 3-step-up platform where the owners were storing extra tables.  There were only 5 normal chairs in said balcony, and the 2 lucky extra folks got to sit at high top chairs and tables - each at their own since there was so much extra storage around us we couldn't even get them at one table.  The 5 of us that had normal-height chairs sat around 2 tiny round cocktail tables.  It was less than comfortable.

But that's alright, we weren't there to have a conversation  we were there to watch tango.  There were two options when it came to food/drinks/show: the dinner and show option (according to the menu and website includes a 5-course meal and the show) or just pay for the show and buy food and drink a la carte.  I will add that the menu price was 20% more than the price listed on their website (not super-surprising, considering the 30% inflation rate here), but that both options were, let's say, not cheap. The waiter came to take our drink order and informed me that the dinner & show option was a rip off and we should go a la carte.  This was good advice - and he rattled it off in speedy Spanish, thank goodness for language lessons.  Even with the a la carte option, the food, drinks and prices were laughably expensive.  Jon ordered a soda, which was AR$40 (even at the more expensive restaurants in the city, this would be $25 or $30) and only got one small glass of non-refillable Coke.  I'm pretty sure the staff was enjoying the rest of the Coke bottle (there is little to no fountain beverages seen in restaurants here).  Wine was easily four times the amount we've paid elsewhere.  The price for an order of pizza (which was one of the 5 courses included in the dinner price) was three times the normal price and only included 3 slices of a personal sized pizza.  It was ridiculous.  I will say that the prices - in conjunction with the horribly presented and possibly microwaved food - ruined the experience for me.  Luckily, we have very tolerant guests, and they were able to completely enjoy the show.

As I mentioned above, I don't have a point of comparison, but the show seemed good. There were 2 sets of dancers, a singer, and this 3-man-band that was great to watch.  Especially the accordion player. Talk about a dying breed! This guy was great - his expressions, the feeling in the music and the cool velvet blanket that goes with his instrument - very cool.  He was who we were all talking about on the ride home.

The dancers were great, two different couples that had very different styles.  They made the most out of the very small space available to dance.  The women's legs seemed to be on hinges with the way they could swing them around, very cool to watch.

There was also a singer, who did an introduction to the bar and welcomed everyone.  She was good, though the most striking feature about her was her height - she must have been six feet tall.  She had a nice voice, though the way she stood in the middle of a restaurant and sang bleeding heart tango songs had a slight awkward sense to it.  I give her credit - I couldn't do it.

We stayed until 11:00pm or so, then decided to head home.  Our bill was absurd considering the product, but we consoled ourselves with hoping that the entertainers got a cut.  I'll also point out that the doors behind all of the entertainers in these photos were the single bathroom doors - so be sure to make a bathroom stop before heading out for Bar Sur - unless you want a whole restaurant of people to see you walking in under the spotlight. Not a place we will go again - or recommend to friends. We may decide to try another tango show at some point, but it will take a while to get the sour taste of this place out of my mouth.


  1. hi I hate this kind of shows. My friend Acho calls them "tango for export" and we have a big thesis about why is it still so famous and where is all the tango, the real tango? Anyway... if you are in the mood for some Tango for locals, try La Chicana at El tasso. Dolores voice is amazing. All songs are written and composed by Acho. They are currently playing Fridays and Saturdays of April



  2. The prices are for tourists on vacation, not for foreigners who live in Buenos Aires. You knew you were paying too much; those on vacation don't.

    Next time, if there is a next time for you, I recommend a milonga where normal people go to dance socially. That's where you'll see the real tango, not a dance that's choreographed. The admission is 25-40 pesos, and a soft drink will set you back 15 pesos. A bargain and you get the real thing. You can watch the dancing for as long as you like.

    At the top of my recommendation list is Lo de Celia Tango Club, at the corner of Av. Entre Rios and Humberto Primo in San Cristobal. Wednesday and Sunday from 6pm to 11pm; Friday and Saturday 10pm to 3am. Recorded music in sets for social dancing. It's for the 60+ dancers who still want to have a good time.

  3. I have been to three or four different places to see Tango shows, each being very different from the other. My personal favorite and where I always recommend that people visit is El Viejo Almacen. The band is really great.